How I Spent My 2018 Summer Vacation

Posted by on July 9, 2018

It wasn’t planned, well, at least not all of it. I was getting burned out at work moving sprinklers around; something I don’t even have to do in my own garden. It was July 4th week, with the holiday on Wednesday. At first, I figured I’d take the holiday through Monday. As front-end Monday progressed, it looked like I could take the Tuesday off as well; so I did.

For someone who has traveled the world extensively, having been around our glorious globe twice, and having visited 77 countries, a far-away places wasn’t on my agenda. I want to stay home and work in my garden, the Bee Better Teaching Garden.

I’m not sure I would have been so pleased to just stay at home if the garden wasn’t one of the private gardens on the Perennial Plant Association tour annual meeting. Maybe I would have, because I do love the peace my garden provides. It’s hard to tell. I don’t spend as much time in my garden as I would like. Truth is, I spend about the same amount of time as I did before starting work at Fearrington 18 months ago, but it feels different. And with the tour coming up, I wanted the garden to be at her best!

It was hot—still in the heatwave—Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. The sound of rain woke me around 7:00 AM. it was trilling. The temperature dropped as well, only reaching 80ºF on Saturday, and very pleasant Sunday, as well. Certainly a nip in the air.

Do you know what a full plant maintenance is? I’m pretty sure I made up this phrase. I starting doing it with the Oakwood garden. By comparison with my garden today, it was very small, and easily done. A day was all that was needed. Now it takes a week to do, especially since working past 2:00 PM would be unhealthy. Deadly, in fact. A full plant maintenance, is going around to every section of the garden and grooming each and every plant individually.

When you look at a garden as a whole, everything looks fine. But if you begin to look hard at each plant, you see there is a lot to do. One month out from the tour is the time to do this. At first, my plan was to take the week before the tour off and do this, then I realized, I would leave the garden too stark. A month out allows time for the garden to re-birth. That’s the plan anyway.

No prose, just results:

Tuesday: Starting in The Red Bed, in the front with the fountain, I began along the path and moved outward on both sides until the entire garden was groomed. This is a big bed, and I’m afraid it looks a little weak right now. In the spring, I added 32 plugs of Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ from American Meadows along the walk. They are coming up nicely, and I hope they are in bloom by August 3rd. That would be a big, fat, bonus! Cleome were thinned, sedum cut back and potted up, weeds pulled. Lots of crabgrass. Actually, one crabgrass is too many, so lots are around 5.The daylilies were dead-headed and dead-leafed. I’ll need to do this again the week before the tour, but at least this was a start. The European pear wasn’t thriving, so I coppiced it. I’m not sure this will help, but at least it isn’t an eyesore. Staking plants isn’t my thing, but I’m doing so this year. It makes a difference in my garden especially since I’m on a 1:16 slope and plants tend to lean. When they do, they cover other plants. I have a few losses, in particularly a couple of mugo pines I added this winter. The mugs were smothered by Ironweed. They were sun starved. In other areas of the Red Bed, I added a few annuals to fill in open spaces, and moved more ‘Sheffield Pink’ mums around to add balance. All in all, I like how the bed turned out. Surprisingly, it really takes a big bed like this six hours of steady labor. In the heat of the day, I went to my rock source to pick up seven five-gallon buckets of pea gravel to refresh the paths. I can’t seem to find Tennessee stone anymore, at least not by the pound. I got 3/8 Chalet instead. It is really to grey, but I’ll try to blend them better. It needed doing for a long time, but with no push, it fell to the bottom on my todo list. This is the best reason in the world to open your garden for a tour. Things get done. I was also able to remove the magnolia leaves from unwanted areas. I co-exist with the ones under the tree. They can’t help it, but those in the path, in the front entrance bed, and under the trash and recycle receptacles, were building up during dropping season. I’ve removed them once, ignored the leaves for several weeks, just waiting for the annual drop to clear. It’s about over, so I cleared those. With the tour as my emphadist, I also added a ribbon of pine straw as a path edge tidying up the boxwood bases. This is something I’ve never don’t before, but I thought it added value; I’m not sure I’d do again, but I sure do like the results! Cleaned the coop and groomed their run. Yes, the run was looking a bit chunky. I often compost herbaceous cuttings there. When I get lazy, I’ll toss plants whole cut at the base. So I went in and cut the long stems into six inch, or so, pieces. They will break down faster that way, and they are easier for my girls to handle. I also cleaned out the coop.

Wednesday: I moved on to the front parterre. The edges needed cutting, and the interior parterre beds looked pathetic. While the Echinacea look OK, the zinnias weren’t all the way up yet. These nectar-rich color-box annuals steal the show in the summer. With the cool spring, they were slow to start. By August 3rd, the garden will be awesome, I hope. Even though it is a PERENNIAL plant meeting, I’m sure I’ll be forgiven these annuals. We also had a family cookout and when to a concert at Red Hat Amphitheater.

Thursday: Today was the day I finally focused on the front entrance to the house. In this case, is was just plain weak. Noting fun. Overlooked and blah. I have two areas like this. I’m not sure why, and in both cases, they were shade gardens. The one in the front is less shady, having late afternoon sun. The shady berm garden at Fearrington where I work needed a lot of thinning, and my boss wanted the majority of the Japanese Painted Ferns removed. (Actually, he wanted them all out, so I settled on taking out most.) There were also lots of goose-neck loosestrife (not to be confused with the evil purple loosestrife) in too much shade, so I was able to get plenty of transplants. The bed now is green and white with existing hostas, ferns, Solomon’s seal, and obedient plant. (Yes, obedient plant.) It’s not as full as I would like, but I still have a month to go. A little organic fish emulsion should help pump things up. I don’t typically use any fertilizer, but in this case I will make an exception. The one in the back, near the coop viewing area, is in full shade. I hope to focus on that next weekend. I’ve not decided what to do yet, but it needs help. I also managed to lay fresh leaf mulch around the hellebores in the soccer field out back. Plus, water in other new plantings. We did have 2.1 inches of rain the Sunday before which was a blessing, but as I was planting, the ground was dry. Imagine, so much rain, and the soil isn’t soaked! It just goes to show how dry it has been.

Friday: Today’s focus was on the front pollinator bed. To put it mildly, it was a hot mess! Within four hours it was whipped into shape! (It’s a small bed.) I also had time to rework the back Mixed Border. Staking was what was needed most. The perennials were rocking it, and may save me from disgrace in August! I then worked on the back 40 (feet). This bed is a xeric bed, requiring no watering, but there new additions added in the fall that were thirsty, so I watered there. I also pulled a few other transplants I added in the fall, that didn’t make the gardener’s drought. I even had time groom the earthworm compost bin. Ha! you say? Well, if anyone wanted to peak in there, I wanted to make sure there was plenty of worms to see. There are. I also managed to sell the family 2001 Honda Odyssey. We were the only owners, where I hauled kids to school, sporting events, doctors, etc, plus vacations up and down the East Coast, and of course, plant shopping. The spiderwebs were swept from the garden house and coop, plus I cleaned the back porch, getting ready for Forum. The topic was host butterfly plants. It was on of the very best so far! Seeded several flats of microgreens. Put a fresh coat of paint on the Green House work benches and also on the potting bench in the back. Things are looking fresh! Spray painted the wreath on the coop.

Saturday: I woke to the most glorious rain. Such a surprise and pleasure. We received 1.2 inches. It was slow and gentle. To continue with my vaca while not being in the garden, I took my few bucks from the sell of a 17 year old mini van and bought two pair of shoes. Such a splurge, and warranted. I also sat alone in a coffee shop to write. I miss writing. A lot! Mowed the lawn.

Sunday: I wrote a plant list for the back shady weak bed. It’s crazy since I spend so much time there. You would like it would be fabo. But no. by a week from today, it will lush! I have the magic. The back lights tripped in the rain. Got those straight. Cut the ‘Sheffield Pink’ mums by about a third. This will make the flower stems shorter in October when the are in bloom, and better keep the flowers upright. I was going to the Farmers Market to see what hostas were there, until I remembered I spend all my money on shoes. I have to tell you, that was a first! Planted a few plants members brought to Saturday’s forum. Such a wonderful evening. Put another pinestraw ribbon along a path edge. Mowed. Staked a couple of plants. Ate watermelon, fed the rinds to my girls. un-rangled a hose that I don’t need anymore. What was really weird during my vaca was that each day I started out thinking I didn’t have a lot to do. Once I started, there was no stopping, yet no pressure. Everyone at the Forum mentioned how much nicer it was. <3


2 responses to “How I Spent My 2018 Summer Vacation”

  1. Debby West says:

    Oh how I can relate to your Garden notes & internal drive. Last weeks “cold front” in Columbia, SC allowed me to empty a Super Sod Soil 3 yellow bag of compost, complete a final raised bed , remove a wild, rogue clematis that was trying to cover & smother a bed of azaleas & so much more.

    There is always a vision, a dream of how we want our garden to look like in our minds eye. It always involves more time, more money, hard scape material, mulch & plants.

    It is an addiction of sorts & a recognition of the season. All too soon summer will end & we will slide into fall & winter where holidays, weather, work, school, etc. will demand our time.

    Soak up summer, your dreams & aspirations & enjoy the process, reap your rewards!

  2. Kathryn Hall says:

    Oh, my goodness, Helen! That’s a LOT of work. But the results must be so satisfying! Well done!

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